PRINCE SULTAN AIR BASE, Saudi Arabia -- If a method is developed in 1985 and to this day it ain’t broke should it be fixed? For an innovator like Staff Sgt. Vincent Miller, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal craftsman with the 378th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, the answer is easy, “Yes.”
“People are always going to find negative aspects in something new,” said Miller. “It doesn’t matter what the idea, product or system is, there is always going to be a con. What you need to think is, will the positives outweigh the negatives and will it be overall better than the current way?”
Back in 1985 during an operation at Spangdahlem Air Force Base called Salty Demo, a UXO removal method called a “chain drag” was created. The basic concept is stakes are driven into the ground off the runway then a chain is hooked to the winch line of a Humvee or armored vehicle and wrapped around the stakes so that when the winch line is recalled, or the vehicle moves, the chain sweeps the UXOs off the airfield as the chain goes taut.
It’s a tried and true method, but it’s dependent on the availability of an armored vehicle to protect the EOD team, a commodity not always available in the temporary austere mission locations EOD specialists are sometimes deployed to with great airpower but limited mission support equipment.
To augment the oversight, Miller developed and blueprinted a custom timer winch, stake and chain set. In theory, it’ll be the “chain drag” method and a new “hook and line” method Miller developed packed into one or two pelican cases for easy movement.
The augmented chain drag method would use two of Miller’s custom winches with their lines equally extended taut and a drag blade hooked in between. The winch’s custom timers will then be set to drag the UXOs off the airfield at a coordinated time with the EOD team safely out of the blast radius.
Miller’s new “hook and line” method will in theory be able to augment EOD capabilities in more developed deployment locations as well as austere locations. The “chain drag” method is mainly meant for smaller munitions that’d come out of cluster bombs, but say a large warhead lands on the airfield. An EOD team could still move the large ordnance from the protection of an armored vehicle but the vehicle’s auxiliary systems could be damaged in the process.
The “hook and line” method would utilize one of Miller’s custom winches and drag the warhead off the flightline. The timer would allow EOD to manipulate the UXO from a greater distance with comparably less risk of future expenses to the Air Force. Even if the winch is incapable of dragging the ordnance off of the airfield completely, it’d still cause additional movement. Which according to Miller, drastically reduces the risk factor of EOD specialists moving it themselves as initial movement is usually the most unpredictable and dangerous part of UXO removal.
Miller originally had the idea while deployed with the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, but it was put on hold in his transition of redeploying to the 378th Air Expeditionary Wing at Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
At his 378th AEW right-start briefing, the innovation working group leader told the crowd, “if you have an idea come over.” So Miller hit them up as soon as he could and after hashing out a few details and a PowerPoint with their help, he presented his idea at a wing leadership meeting and was awarded money to create a working prototype of his idea. Due to contracting and shipping constraints that is far as Miller’s idea made it at PSAB.
“So far it's just been making blueprints and revising the idea with colleges and other people around the base,” said Miller. “I refuse to just let it die. I’m going to go back to Hill AFB and continue to work on it. If the parts do show up here I’ll tell the guys this is how it worked, and give them instructions on how to build it.”
Under the advice of the 378th AEW’s prior commander, Miller has taken his idea higher submitting it to the USAF Guardians and Airmen Innovation Network, AFWERX program and Spark Tank competition in the hopes of one day having his idea in every U.S. Department of Defense EOD team’s arsenal.
“If you have an idea, it doesn’t matter if you think it’s dumb or smart, just bring it up,” said Miller. “If someone shuts it down like ‘Ohh I don’t think that…’ go to someone else, cause someone else will see merit in that idea.”
Team PSABs innovation working group is open to all deployed troops looking to improve the quality of life of expeditionary locations or to further USCENTCOM’s capabilities in its area of responsibility. In cases like Miller’s idea, PSAB may not be able to bring it to fruition but the leadership is more than willing to get the ball rolling.